The River That Falls From the Sky
By Awake! correspondent in Venezuela
FAR to the south of the glittering capital of Venezuela, Caracas, lies a strange land, the Guiana Highlands. This is the mysterious area that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used as the setting for his science-fiction novel The Lost World, in which he wrote of an isolated tableland where dinosaurs still roamed.
No, there are no dinosaurs there. But over the soft-green plateaus tower brooding, table-topped mountains that resemble massive fortresses. These sheer-sided, flat-topped mountains are called tepuís.
The largest and one of the highest of the tepuís, which rises about 8,000 feet (2,400 m), was discovered long ago by the local Indians. They named it Auyán Tepuí, meaning “Devil Mountain.” The Indians imagined that it was the Devil’s domain because of the severe weather conditions, the hurricane-force winds and storms, and the thick clouds that generally obscure the top of the tepuí.
Out of the rocky crags of Devil Mountain an underground river, the Churún, takes a leap into space that makes it the highest waterfall known and one of the loveliest. The majestic waterfall is known as Churún-Merú by the Kamaracotos Indians, Salto Angel by Venezuelans, and Angel Falls by the English-speaking world.
“I Found Myself a Waterfall!”
Early in this century, in 1910, Ernesto Sánchez La Cruz, a Venezuelan explorer hunting gold and rubber ranged up the twisting Churún River canyon and found the spectacular waterfall. He exclaimed that he saw a river that seemed to be ‘falling out of the sky!’
Later it was named Angel Falls after Jimmy Angel, an American adventurer pilot and gold hunter. Angel wrote in his log (the entry dated November 16, 1933) when he first flew over the falls, “I found myself a waterfall!” When he returned in 1937 and tried to land his monoplane on Auyán Tepuí, he crash-landed on top of the mesa instead. Eleven days later he and his passengers, including his wife, struggled down from the top of the mesa. The resultant publicity drew attention to the awesome sight that he had seen. Later, measurements proved the waterfall to be 3,212 feet (979 m) high—over half a mile of sheer drop!
Now, it’s easy to say 3,212 feet high, but just imagine—that is more than twice as high as the Empire State Building in New York City, twice as high as Ribbon Falls in Yosemite National Park, California, or well over three times as high as Skykje Falls in Norway, Staubbach Falls in Switzerland, or Candelas Falls in Colombia!
Curiously, there is no lake on the mesa. In the rainy season during the storms, torrents of water fall from the sky, collect in the deep crevices, gorges, and canyons, and run off into the mostly underground Churún River.
Is Angel Falls Still Hidden?
Can you visit this hidden marvel of creation? Yes, two ways, both difficult. Leaving from Puerto Ordaz, you can make a two-week trip by canoe.
Or you can fly past Angel Falls, leaving from Caracas or Puerto Ordaz. A small plane will take you through the twisting Churún River canyon with towering mountains on either side and fly you below the rims of the mountains. There are so many falls that it is bewildering. But when you finally see Angel Falls plunging down the escarpment, all doubt vanishes. As the glimpse is so fleeting, under good conditions the pilot makes two passes for the benefit of the traveler.
There is no guarantee of seeing or photographing Angel Falls, however, as the weather conditions are so unpredictable. Many times the falls cannot be seen because of being completely hidden by rain, mist, or heavy clouds. This is disappointing if you have spent time and money in anticipation of seeing the majestic sight. But the thrill of the flight down the ever-narrowing dead-end canyon is in itself worth the price and effort to many.
There is one last chance though. Continuing your flight, you arrive shortly at pink-sanded Canaima. Here you can arrange to go on a guided excursion to the foot of Angel Falls. This requires two or three days one way, in a canoe on the Carrao and Churún rivers and then a climb on foot through the jungle to a vantage point. There you may have to wait until the clouds cooperate, separate, and lift. Then Angel Falls is revealed in its sparkling, spectacular leap from below the rim of Auyán Tepuí.
‘What’s on top of the mesa?’ you wonder. The few who have explored the top have endured the damp cold up there; the temperature can go down to almost 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0° C.) at night. The surface is broken up into fissures and gorges with strange rocks the size of skyscrapers.
Taking a last look at the misty silver cascade, we appreciate that far from having any connection with the Devil’s domain, Angel Falls is a splendid expression of the handiwork of the One who created magnificent waterfalls, both for his pleasure and for the delight of humans.
[Picture on page 13]
Often the falls cannot be seen because of mist or clouds